Galactocele is also called lactocele or milk cyst. These are common type of lump called a benign breast lesion that form in women who have just weaned their previously breastfed child. A galactocele tends to form in the areola around the nipple.
The good news is that these painless breast lumps are always non-cancerous. The bad news is that they cannot be ignored since in the worst cases the lumps may transform into breast abscesses, a serious infection that needs prompt medical attention. A galactocele is born when there is any blockage in the milk ducts. Blockages are common right after a child stops breast-feeding and the breasts have not dried up yet. The big difference between a galactocele and other kinds of breast cysts is that they are filled with milk and not other kinds of bodily fluids.
The main symptom of a galactocele is a lump formed in the nipple or the areola on the breast. The lumps often appear gradually over weeks and sometimes months. One lump or many lumps can appear on one breast or both. These lumps are painless but can cause some discomfort.
These symptoms match cancerous breast lumps. Any lump in the breast needs medical attention to determine what it is. The best hope of surviving breast cancer is treating it at its earliest stages.
Galactoceles can be caused by anything that blocks a breast duct while the breast is lactating. When the breast duct becomes blocked, breasts become distended with milk and epithelial cells, which can produce galactoceles. Typically, these blockages have routine and benign causes, although in rare cases a breast duct may be blocked by a carcinoma. Galactoceles seem to be more frequent after breastfeeding has actually stopped, as “stagnant” or unexpelled milk is retained within the breasts. Galactoceles can also be caused by infections incurred by people who are breastfeeding, as these can have an impact on the whole body.
The good news is that many women do not need any treatment and over time their bodies take care of the lumps. Many other women need their galactoceles drained. This is an in-office procedure done with a thin needle to draw out the milk in the cyst. The milk inside of a cyst can look like regular breast milk or appear much thicker than breast milk. The longer it has been inside of the cyst, the thicker it tends to get.
The galactocele may leave a non-cancerous mass that may appear similar to a cancerous tumor in her mammograms or in ultrasounds for many years afterwards.
Galactoceles can occur in anyone, but especially in people who are or have recently breastfed. While there is no specific way to prevent them unilaterally, there are things that a person can do to reduce the likelihood of developing galactoceles, and to catch them early if they do develop. Regular breast checks are integral to this, as they often appear as soft, moveable lumps that are sometimes painful. Because galactoceles are caused by buildup of milk, those breastfeeding should also be aware of signs that their milk has stopped. Regular application of warm compresses, gentle massages, and steady compression can keep milk flowing within breasts and prevent the buildup that can lead to galactoceles. These methods can be administered at home, so they are easy ways to lower one’s risk for developing galactoceles. Galactoceles can also be detected via ultrasound or mammogram, so it is important to keep a regular schedule.
Recurring blockages of breast ducts can also be treated at home, leading to a greater chance of preventing galactoceles. Manually expressing milk before feeding, ingesting lecithin, and avoiding saturated fats are all ways of preventing the blocked ducts that can lead to galactoceles.